Ford Autonomous Car Technology for Communicating with People
In an exciting new partnership with the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, Ford is working on a new technology for autonomous cars to communicate with people. When giving the go-ahead for a pedestrian to cross the street in front of a car, a simple wave or head nod typically suffices, but with self-driving cars, the question of how to communicate this and other driving aspects to people arises. Ford and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute are attempting to address this dilemma.
Lighting Signals for Self-Driving Car Communication
For the project, the researchers looked into multiple means of communication for self-driving cars. The team considered using displayed text, but that would require people all understand the same language. The use of symbols was rejected because symbols historically have low recognition among consumers. Ultimately, they decided lighting signals were the most effect method of autonomous vehicle communication.
On a Transit Connect van, Ford outfitted a lightbar on the windshield. With a driver concealed in a “seat suit” to create the illusion of a self-driving car, the van was driven on public roads in northern Virginia, with the researchers experimenting with three light signals: yield (white lights that move side to side), active autonomous driving mode (solid white light) and acceleration from a stop (rapidly blinking white light).
Useful Data from Autonomous Vehicle Communication Research Project
For the autonomous vehicle communication research project, more than 150 hours of data over approximately 1,800 miles of driving was collected in an urban environment, including encounters with pedestrians, bicyclists and other drivers. The research work is useful not only for Ford in developing their autonomous vehicle technology, but for helping pedestrians and other drivers respond to self-driving cars in the future, as well as for creating an industry standard for autonomous vehicle communication.